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Monday, April 15

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The Mechanics

Democrats Mon Dec 14 2015

Alvarez Headed for Shoals on North Shore

Doings in Evanston this Sunday gave strong indication that State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, in her bid for re-election, is heading for some rocks along the north lakefront of Cook County as perilous as those that occasioned the erection of the historic Grosse Point Lighthouse in the 1800s. Bearing in mind, as an old Danish proverb goes, that it is always dangerous to prophesy, especially about the future, and that that danger is multiplied by trying to use orchestrated political events as tea leaves, the Democratic primary bid of Kimberly Foxx stands to gain a massive boost from both the Chicago wards and suburban townships of the shoreward persuasion.

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Jeff Smith

Law Tue Apr 21 2015

Will Donor's Lawsuit Send Schock Waves?

The novel federal lawsuit filed April 15 against former Congressman Aaron Schock and up to 100 "John Does," seeking return of political contributions, is one of the strongest signals yet of Americans' disgust with the perversion and conversion of our own political system, and in particular Congress, into a beast we barely recognize let alone control. In part, the new lawsuit simply piles more chaos onto the train wreckage of the Aaron Schock Express, catalyzed by the relatively trivial "Downton Abbey" redecoration kerfuffle and now in the hands of a grand jury. The suit underscores that overdone office decor was only footnote to a pattern of hinky dealings by Schock. It also tests the immunity that politics has enjoyed from the courts, if not the wider court of public opinion. This latter part of the story may not be so easily dismissed, though the lawsuit may meet that fate.

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Jeff Smith

Election 2015 Mon Aug 18 2014

Six Months in Chicago

Image via NBC5-WMAQ

For six months in Chicago, there may be a rare, once-a-decade opportunity to get some answers. If that sentence seems magniloquent, that's because I had to start big since the subsequent sentence is, "That opportunity is the 2015 Chicago municipal elections."

That opportunity is the 2015 Chicago municipal elections. Chicago is defined by confluence; in the first instance, literally, as sitting at the confluence of Lake Michigan, the Chicago River, and the Chicago Portage, the connection between the Great Lakes and Mississippi watersheds. Soon after, the nation's railroad flowed together there; now, it's the confluence of the nation's air travel and trucking. Today, it is also a confluence of some of the country's biggest challenges.

Income inequality, gentrification, rising housing costs, under-resourced schools and creeping privatization, under-served mental health services, police brutality, street crime, segregation, environmental justice, exploitation of undocumented workers, police militarization, un- and under-compensated care work, wage theft, unemployment, over-crowded jails, hyper-criminalization, lack of government transparency, and crumbling infrastructure. These issues intersect on the orange-lit streets of the Great American City. Chicago is a beautiful city and livable city. It is also suffering.

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Ramsin Canon

Good Government/Reform Mon Oct 14 2013

Chicago Organizers Launch Movement to Take Back Chicago

This Tuesday, October 15, thousands of activists, residents and state and local officials will converge on UIC Forum for Take Back Chicago rally and town hall meeting.

Take Back Chicago is convened by Grassroots Collaborative, an alliance of 11 neighborhood and community organizations with the common goal of advancing the interests of working and middle class people in Chicago.

This meeting represents the "launch of a long-term, cross-movement progressive organizing campaign in Chicago," Amisha Patel, Executive Director of Grassroots Collaborative, said in an interview.

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Emily Brosious / Comments (1)

Feature Tue Oct 08 2013

Dan Linn: Illinois NORML, Yes We Cannabis!


Dan Linn speaking at Chicago-Kent College of Law (Photo/Illinois NORML)

Dan Linn hadn't always planned on becoming the leader of a statewide movement to legalize marijuana. But at 31, as the Executive Director of the Illinois chapter of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML), that's exactly what he has been doing for the better part of the last decade.

In the Fox Lake area of Illinois where he grew up, "drinking was huge," Linn said in an interview. From a young age, he could see the effects alcohol had on people. Then he saw the effects marijuana had on people and "it was like a night and day difference," he said.

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Emily Brosious / Comments (3)

Police Tue Aug 13 2013

Why Did Chicago Police Attack ALEC Protesters?

Photo by Justin Carlson, via The Anti-Media

Thousands of activists, union and faith group members, and concerned citizens rallied outside the Palmer House Hilton in downtown Chicago this past Thursday to protest the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), whose 40th anniversary conference was being held inside the hotel.

Demonstrators picketed around the block for about an hour, then gathered at a soundstage to hear speakers including Rev. Jesse Jackson address the crowd. Closing remarks from a Chicago Federation of Labor representative thanked the Fraternal Order of Police for protecting the crowd and asked everyone to leave. A majority of union members, many from out-of-town, did leave at the CFL's request. However, a smaller group of anti-ALEC activists and citizens stayed put to continue on with the protest.

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Emily Brosious

Urban Planning Fri Jul 26 2013

Detroit's Not Dead. It's Not Even Detroit.

detroit 2.jpgDetroit Skyline. Photo by nic_r

It's been a busy week for Detroit. As the city itself continues to chug along, all Dan Gilbert-gilded glory or 58 minutes-plus of waiting time for the cops to come, the world's been chiming in on what went so utterly wrong up in Motown.

Detroit, once powerhouse of industrial might and paradigm of American ideals and grandeur, has finally fallen from grace: a victim of poor governance, racism, lack of economic diversification, empty pension coffers, and sprawl. And America, beware. While amplified in Detroit, the same underlying dynamics that so rotted the Motor City are coming to a city near you.

This is to read the obituaries.

And yet, things are getting better all the time in Detroit. Declare bankruptcy one day and announce some green shoots in the economy the next. A $60 million mixed-use development is in the works. There's a placemaking renaissance afoot turning traffic islands into temporary beaches and creating last change. Here come the Red Wings. Let's not forget, Whole Foods just opened up in downtown Detroit.

This is to read the news.

To paraphrase a song from one of the city's most successful rappers, will the real Detroit please stand up?

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Ben Schulman

Good Government/Reform Fri Jul 26 2013

America's #1 Populist Tips His Hat to Illinois' Campaign Finance Reform Movement

If politics is a matter of who gets what, when, and how, then Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (2010) would aptly be described as a monumental political game changer. In the few short years since the Supreme Court of the United States decided money and speech are one in the same and withdrew restrictions on independent political spending, Americans have watched the whos, whats, whens, and hows of politics bending in one distinct direction: towards the interests of the 1%.

Former Texas Agriculture Commissioner, nationally syndicated columnist and radio commentator, New York Times bestselling author, and self described American populist Jim Hightower knows a thing or two about fighting corporate influence in government, and he is a leading voice in the movement to overturn Citizens United.

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Emily Brosious

Federal Government Wed May 01 2013

What Were Once Vices

The summer of 1974 is memorable not only for the release of a Doobie Brothers' LP that with its hit "Black Water" would form a soundtrack for much of the coming year, but also for the resignation of Richard Nixon. As Mechanics' attorney-in-residence, and possibly the only writer here who remembers dancing to either of the aforesaid, and as a nod to Law Day, I agreed to cover the forum last night at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics in Hyde Park featuring current and past U.S. Attorneys General Eric Holder and John Ashcroft. Moderated by former Chicago law school dean Geoffrey Stone, the event highlighted the publication of Restoring Justice: The Speeches of Attorney General Edward Levi, by Jack Fuller. Fuller, former Chicago Tribune editor and publisher, interrupted his long journalism career to serve as an assistant to Edward H. Levi during Levi's stint as the country's top lawyer during the Ford Administration.

That 1975 appointment, of course, plucking Levi from the presidency of the University of Chicago, was a direct response to a national crisis in confidence in the Justice Department specifically, and in government generally. Watergate and related scandals saw lawyer-President Nixon impeached and resign, two of Levi's predecessors as Attorney General convicted of perjury, and the White House counsel plead guilty to obstruction of justice. Fuller's book debuts amidst the 40th anniversary of the scandals, cover-ups, shocking revelations, and legal-political drama that overshadowed much else in the nation in 1972-74. Since some of the same themes that then gripped the U.S. reverberate today -- electronic surveillance of Americans, bombings abroad ordered by the executive branch, and the power of the Presidency itself -- the forum held promise of potential fireworks and relevancy. The Institute did a pro job at logistics and presentation, and, let's be clear, is not required to offer all points of view. Unfortunately, what could have been more provocative ended up, by virtue of lack of balance, as a soft promo for continued perpetual war and expanded executive branch power, with only nods of concern to clampdown on civil liberties and ever-eroding privacy. I have to wonder if that's what Edward Levi would have wanted.

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Jeff Smith

State Politics Thu Mar 21 2013

Pension Reform Passes, for Now

The Illinois House of Representatives passed what many legislators deem a major step for pension reform today.

But while House Republican Leader Tom Cross (also a co-author of the bill, along with Rep. Elaine Nekritz) called it "the meat and potatoes of pension reform," it doesn't seem so clear that today's step is actually one in the right direction.

The Illinois pension problem has heated up in a major way over the past several weeks, with Standard & Poor downgrading the state's credit rating back in January and the SEC announcing charges against the state for misleading bond investors regarding the implications of unfunded pension obligations. Some lawmakers have even called for--gasp--skipping the upcoming break from session in order to settle the pension mess.

But while today's bill has the right idea (i.e. something has to happen), it doesn't seem likely that the bill will make it past (1) the Senate or (2) the Supreme Court. Yesterday, the Senate shot down a bill that was similarly far-reaching regarding pension reform. And even if the bill does pass the Senate, as CapitolFax guru Rich Miller put it on Monday, the Nekritz-Cross pension bill "makes almost no pretensions of being constitutional."

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Jake Grubman

Election 2012 Fri Mar 30 2012

Cook County Regular Democratic Disorganization: Guzzardi and Berrios

by Caroline O'Donovan

The precinct captains, who had been preparing for election day for weeks, arrived at headquarters at 5:30am. A box of Dunkin Donuts, a campaign staple for liberals and conservatives, incumbents and challengers alike, was already waiting. Polls would open at 6 and not close for 13 hours; the day ahead would be long. Each captain was given a stack of door hangers, a list of addresses and a few volunteers while coffee brewed. The sole goal was to find as voters who had said they would support Will Guzzardi for state representative and ensure that they went to the polls.

To have informed the group of people assembled at Guzzardi headquarters that morning that voter turnout in the 39th District would be a record low this year would not have disheartened them. A low turnout rate could actually have been in their favor, because it meant that the machine operation of incumbent State Rep. Toni Berrios and her father Cook County Democratic Party chairman Joe Berrios, was underperforming.

Tellingly, it was not with voters on the street who campaign workers had the most fraught interactions last Tuesday, but with election judges at the polls. From reluctantly reported voter lists to lost tape to delayed results, many of the individuals who were voting and campaigning in the 39th district last Tuesday pointed to gross mismanagement on behalf of the Board of Elections. This claim made the final count, with Berrios leading Guzzardi by 111 votes, suspect to a number of Guzzardi supporters. The slim margin is frustrating to volunteers, some of whom have found it difficult not to want to find a connection between the strangely unprofessional behavior of the election judges and a loss that was just too close.

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Mechanics / Comments (1)

Chicago Public Schools Fri Mar 02 2012

Democracy Disappearing: Is It Time for Local School Councils to Elect Their Own School Board?

The Chicago Board of Education, having proven itself unconcerned with parent concerns that do not match their own person concerns, and unresponsive to popular political pressure, fail the test of participatory democracy that institutions like school systems need to stay vital and innovative. The last vestige of democracy in the school system, local school councils, may need to do something drastic to make the Board of Education as irrelevant as they seem to think parents are.

In 1988, Chicagoans made an impressive step forward in democratic school governance, amending the state's relevant education statute to provide for, among many other things, elected local school councils with authority over hiring, structuring, and budgeting at local schools. These councils, or LSCs, were novel then and continue to be rare. LSCs are composed of members of the public, parents, teachers, the school's principal and student representative with non-voting authority. The LSCs are not merely advisory bodies, but were designed to make schools responsive to the community and give parents a vested interest in the operation of the local schools. When the reforms were first proposed by state Sen. Art Berman (D-Edgewater) in 1988, they were considered radical but necessary--and for a very interesting reason that resonates today:

The new legislation would make some of the most radical changes ever to be undertaken in this country as a way of scrapping the power structure of a failing public school system. It would break up the monolithic control wielded by the central Board of Education and, instead, set up 11-member mini-school boards, comprised chiefly of parents, that would be elected and have the responsibility of governing each of the city`s 595 public schools.

The idea is that control at the school-based level cannot help but be an improvement over decades of unresponsive management by a bureaucratic, heavily politicized, and rigidly centralized Board of Education.

(Bonita Brodt, "School Reform's Achilles Heel: The Parents" Chicago Tribune, 20 November 1988).

The major concern, shared by power-friendly elites like the Tribune, was that unsophisticated parents would be too susceptible to pressure from outside groups. As an example, that same Tribune article pointed out one community organization that was pressuring parents using race-baiting tactics in East Side:

At Bowen High School, 2710 E. 89th St., a community group called the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) has become so heavily entrenched in what began as a parent fight to oust the school principal that the parents have been split bitterly along racial lines and observers now call it UNO`s crusade, instead.

Yet, LSCs have proven remarkably resilient and insulated from this type of pressure. While complaints about principals bullying untrained LSC members are common, the concerns that LSCs would be unsophisticated cats paws or rubber stamps for powerful interests have not born out. Democracy has proven its value as not just a box to check but for its creative power and capacity to ennoble those who feel they have a meaningful role in it, rather than just being a passive consumer.

School privatizers like Mayor Emanuel, his appointed Board of Ed, and his CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, are hostile to LSCs and parent governance. That is to say, whatever their rhetoric, their actions in aggressively pursuing closure of public schools in favor of charters (which do not have LSCs) indicates either outright hostility or indifference amounting to the same thing. This can't be disputed so long as actions are weighted greater than press releases.

The only nod to democratic control of schools the current administration has given is of the "check-the-box" variety, where the Board, before voting unanimously to pursue a Mayoral policy, holds hearings where there are no procedural options for parents to actively and meaningfully participate in decision making. Instead, the Board holds the hearings to say they held them and continue to pursue the precise policy dictated by the Mayor and his CEO.

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Ramsin Canon

Blagojevich Thu Dec 08 2011

Don't Bad-Apple Blagojevich

A familiar trope in the wake of a high-profile institutional failure, whether private or public, is the suggestion or outright assertion that the disaster was the fault of a lone gunman, a "bad apple" whose actions shouldn't be allowed to spoil how we view the rest of the bunch. Messrs. Cheney and Wolfwitz rolled out this cliché when the horrors of Abu Ghraib surfaced. We were told that Enron was, similarly, an outlier of financial fraud, rather than emblematic of how regulatory schemes (or the lack thereof) are too often purchased in what Greg Palast has called "the best democracy money can buy." In the wake of a major environmental disaster the prompts for the "bad apple" defense are sometimes audible. And, of course, when an official misbehaves, others in the arena are always ready with the singular-fruit metaphor.

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Jeff Smith

Open Government Thu Dec 01 2011

The Pitfalls of Mayor Emanuel's Transparency Pledge

What do people want when they demand transparency in government?

The Sunlight Foundation, a transparency watchdog group, provides this background:

Public oversight, civic participation and electoral engagement--the stuff of democratic accountability--all depend on a transparent, open government.

Indeed, transparency and openness are the very foundations for public trust; without the former the latter cannot survive. The Internet is making increased transparency cheaper, more effective, and in more demand every day as Americans come to expect instantaneous and constant access to all kinds of information.

But what kinds of information? The Sunlight Foundation focuses on "influence data," information on money flowing into politics, lobbyist information, and oversight and corruption data. They also advocate for "public means on-line," meaning that to be truly public, data and information needs to be put on-line in easily searchable and manipulable formats.

Consider Mayor Emanuel's transparency initiative. While I've poked fun at the flood of spreadsheets we've gotten, there's no doubt that the administration has done a phenomenal job of putting information--including "influence data"--on-line in extraordinarily user-friendly ways. The City's data portal allows you to look through lobbyist disclosures, spending, and registration information, with an impressive depth and breadth of information. Everything from food inspections to 311 requests are eminently searchable, allowing citizens, journalists, and researchers to track what the government knows, when it knows it, and how it is reacting to it.

But this week, the Chicago Tribune expressed some ire with the administration for refusing to release e-mails and memoranda that could shed light on the decision making that went into crafting the Mayor's water fee hikes and speeding cameras policies:

After Emanuel this fall proposed a series of fee increases to help balance his budget, the Tribune filed requests for any internal City Hall documents to show how Emanuel came up with his plans to charge homeowners and drivers more, including emails, memos and any relevant contacts with outside companies or interests.

This on the heels of an earlier report that the Mayor was "shrouding his office in secrecy":

[E]fforts to peer into the daily operations of the mayor himself -- a man with enormous say over hundreds of millions of dollars in city contracts, hiring and regulations -- are met by a stone wall.

The mayor refused Tribune requests for his emails, government cellphone bills and his interoffice communications with top aides, arguing it would be too much work to cross out information the government is allowed to keep private. After lengthy negotiations to narrow its request for two months of these records, the newspaper was told that almost all of the emails had been deleted.

Illinois' freedom of information (FOI) law explicitly exempts "deliberative materials" from its requirements as to what must be made public upon request:

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Ramsin Canon

Occupy Chicago Fri Oct 28 2011

Tariq Ali on the Arab Spring and #OccupyWallStreet

"Hey! think the time is right for a palace revolution
But where I live the game to play is compromise solution"

"Street Fighting Man," often hailed as the Rolling Stones' most political song, was allegedly inspired by Tariq Ali — political thinker, novelist, filmmaker and activist. Ali was involved in protesting the Vietnam war, and has written more than two dozen works of non-fiction and seven novels. Last night, he spoke at the Biograph Theater on the relation between the protests that resulted in the Arab Spring and the occupy movements that are spreading across the globe.

While he sees Occupy Wall Street and its spin-offs as indication that "things are beginning to move" here in the US, he remains realistic — the occupations may not achieve the results the 99% want, yet are "creating a space" for something "totally different": for the realization that there is and must be an alternative to the "corporate capitalism" that rules what is effectively a one-party system. Democrat or Republican, the US government is comprised of what amounts to an "extreme center," in which politicians, when in power, wind up doing the same thing as their predecessor, regardless of party affiliation. And that one thing is simple: stay in the pockets of corporate capital, and stay in power.

Ali began his talk by pointing out how even the smallest beginning of a grassroots movement can have a global impact. When the Egyptians saw what the Tunisians had achieved — "not known for their political activities — they thought, "If they can do it, so can we." Those who ignited the Arab Spring were resoundingly doubted — no one thought they could do it. What the world witnessed during those months was not, certainly, unprecedented. Ali was clear that this had been brewing for three or four years prior to the eruption, as seen in factory strikes and demonstrations on a smaller scale.

The points here are two-fold: whether the occupy movements taking shape across the US and abroad would have happened at all without the impetus of the Arab Spring is doubtful, although possible in perhaps another form, and the occupy movements may amount to some of the "smaller demonstrations" that prefaced a larger uprising and true change brought about by Tahrir Square.

The Arab Spring and the occupy movements may differ in scale, but qualitatively they are very similar. The occupiers are railing against what they see as the "paralysis that has afflicted their politicians" and the "widespread disillusionment" in the wake of the Obama presidency. Obama (or at least the idea of him) who Ali cites as the "most inventive apparition the [American] Empire could develop," is little different from his predecessor. What the US got isn't change, it's "continuity with other imperial presidents before him."

At the end of the day, #OWS, #OccupyChi, and their brethren represent an opportunity, to which Ali really has only one thing to say: "Don't waste it."

If you missed last night's discussion, you can read more about his thoughts on the occupy movements and the Arab Spring here.

Megan E. Doherty

Budget Thu Oct 13 2011

Inspector General Provides Spreadsheet for Budget

Well, the title basically says it all, but the IG's office has provided .xls and .csv format versions of the Mayor's proposed budget (appropriations only). It's pretty useful, though it'd be helpful if you could play with the columns a bit to make it a bit easier to read--the description of what things are being appropriated for is way to the right. Check it out here.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Event Fri Oct 07 2011

Q & A with Political Writer Tariq Ali

Political thinker, novelist and filmmaker (and, co-author of the recent On History: Tariq Ali and Oliver Stone in Conversation) Tariq Ali will be giving a free talk at the Biograph Theater (2433 N. Lincoln) on Thursday, 27 October. The discussion, "Revolution in the Air: The Arab Spring and a World in Motion" will have a look at the revolts in the Middle East as well as the Occupy Wall Street/Chicago movements across the globe. His talk on this "new resistance to the status quo, its challenge to empire and the dictates of capital, and radical notions of democracy and liberation born anew" will be followed by a Q & A, as well as book signing.

Doors open at 7pm, the event starts at 7:30pm.

For more information:

Megan E. Doherty

Good Government/Reform Thu Sep 29 2011

Occupy Chicago, in Photo and Video

It's now been a week since a small group of Chicagoans descended on the Federal Reserve (by way of a brief stint at the Willis — neé Sears — Tower) to stand in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

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Megan E. Doherty

Good Government/Reform Tue Sep 27 2011

Chicago Inspector General Offers Budget Ideas, Politics-Free

The Chicago Inspector General, Joseph Ferguson, released a report this morning with recommendations to the city government as to how it could close its considerable budget deficit.

There is constant harping in this space (e.g., from me) about the need for democratic control of institutions and meaningful public input into public processes. Any more than a little complaining about constant deference to more or less unaccountable technocrats. Make no mistake, though--technocrats and experts--and insular bodies--do have an important role to play. One of the best things about "third party" bodies that are insulated from politics yet still part of government is that they can make findings and issue recommendations free of the type of political considerations that the elected incorporate into everything. (Which is just one of many reasons why the IG's office should be well-funded and protected from meddling).

At the same time, being part of government means the recommendations these bodies make carry more weight, generate more instant attention, and carry some imprimatur of officialdom. So I read the IG's report with some interest late last night and early this morning.

One of the things that will strike you right from the executive summary is that a number of these recommendations could save enormous sums annually with fairly straightforward actions. It takes only another moment before you realize that they would be unpopular either with powerful special interests or with casual voters. Creating a 1% city income tax, for example, would cause a stir, and Mayor Emanuel has not shown the particular style of political courage necessary to try something like that. Similarly, this administration is unlikely to take the common sense step of eliminating some of the legions of appointed supervisors who supervise ever fewer employees but enjoy high salaries and benefits.

By Ferguson's estimation, that latter change could save the city as much as $100mn a year.

The option that generated buzz this morning was transforming Lake Shore Drive into a toll road, which is unfortunate because there are a lot of other common sense suggestions that, in the short term at least, could balance the city's budget without necessarily wreaking havoc among working families, including (from a release):

· Eliminating all Tax Increment Financing Districts to increase tax revenues to the City's general fund by an estimated $100 million annually

· Increasing the work week of all City employees to 40 hours to save approximately $40 million annually

· Create a Commuter Tax estimated to generate $300 million in annual revenues

· Implement Congestion Pricing for vehicular traffic that is estimated to generate an additional annual revenues of $235 million

· Broadening the City's Amusement Tax which would produce an additional $105 million in annual revenues

A lot of this is necessarily unlikely. They would be major, if simple, changes, and Emanuel's entire political career is one of risk-aversion, and the City Council is not really equipped to take any initiative. Still, having a body in government that can put forward options and recommendations like this, to at the very least make the public aware of what is conceivable and possible--and what politicians are unwilling, for their own person political reasons, to do--is essential to good government.

To read the full report, follow the jump. Also, check out IG Ferguson on WBEZ's 848 this morning. (I was on after him).

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Ramsin Canon

TIFs Tue Sep 06 2011

A Look Behind: Mayor Emanuel's TIF Commission; What They "Do and Don't"

Last Monday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel made good on his campaign pledge to reform the Chicago's sprawling Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program. So it would seem from scanning the headlines. Or maybe it's time to double-down on cynicism, because nothing has changed.

Hard to say, really, since there's been precious little analysis of what Emanuel's TIF reform panel actually proposed.

(For a quick refresh of how TIFs work, click here and here.)

So let's take a look. At bottom, their report urges the city to adopt four simple, technocractic habits:

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TIFs Tue Aug 30 2011

Carole Brown on Chicago Tonight Talking TIFs

What jumped out at me was Brown saying that the public was mistaken in believing that tax increment financing districts were meant only to address blight. An area being blighted is actually in the TIF statute as among the necessary conditions for creation of a TIF. Hard to see how those statements can both be reconciled.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Aldermen Fri Aug 12 2011

Decoupling Waste from Ward Map: Garbage as Politics

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is reportedly steaming ahead with plans to unlink the collection of Chicago's residential garbage (for single-family homes, two-flats, and three-flats) from the time-honored ward-by-ward provision of this critical municipal service, a move that may leave some aldermen equally steaming. The potential $60 million savings in play here from collecting garbage along routes that make the most sense for Streets and San, rather than by political boundaries, should make this a no-brainer. So why opposition? Because, while many think of politics as trashy, in Chicago, trash is politics.

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Jeff Smith / Comments (3)

Good Government/Reform Fri Jun 10 2011

Inspector General: Minority Contracting Program "Beset By Fraud and Abuse"

Chicago's Inspector General's Office (IGO) has released a scathing study of the city's minority- and women-owned business program, calling it "beset by fraud and abuse," and cataloging the fundamental problems with the program. The MWB program has popped up in a variety of different scandals, with organized crime and corrupt politicians abusing technocratic discretion and inherently faulty oversight for personal gain in subversion of the program's purpose.

Among the recommendations for correcting the program:

  • Shifting the City's focus away from MWBE certification to monitoring MWBE compliance
  • Accurately tracking and reporting actual payments to MWBEs
  • Establishing meaningful contract-specific goal setting for program participation
  • Granting waivers from MWBE goals for construction contracts where appropriate to allow for honesty in contractor bidding and ensure better MWBE compliance
  • Collecting penalties from firms that do not satisfy MWBE requirements

You can sniff which recommendation most addresses the corruption problem: certification versus monitoring. Certification means a firm is certified as minority or woman owned in an obscure bureaucratic process, which essentially grants certain contractors a privilege they carry with them. This makes that certification extremely valuable and low-risk: once you have it you are most likely to keep it, and you just have that one hurdle, certification, to cross. A lack of on-going monitoring of compliance makes the creation of phony minority- or woman-owned businesses extremely attractive, and makes "smoothing the process" of actually getting it much easier.

The full report is after the jump.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Open Government Wed Jun 08 2011

City Employee Salaries Brought to You by the City

You have to give it up so far to Mayor Emanuel's tech team. They have been on a steady drive to make available as much general data as they can think to get on-line, and provide it in a supremely easy-to-manipulate way.

Their latest is a salary database for all city employees. You can get in there and do custom searches, save views, and even embed results. For example, here are the highest paid people in the Mayor's Office:

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (3)

Good Government/Reform Mon Jun 06 2011

"This is about trying to get information from my city government as a citizen and journalist": The Reader's Mick Dumke on His Lawsuit Against the City

Richard M. is now former Mayor Daley, hopefully moving on to projects that might challenge him a bit more than this softball governing-the-country's-third-largest-city stuff. Mayor Emanuel inherits more than a few challenges from the Daley era-one of which is a lawsuit filed in the final months of Daley's tenure as mayor by ace investigative journalist Mick Dumke of the Chicago Reader. Repeatedly stymied in his attempts to glean information from the city through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, Dumke took the issue to the courts, filing suit against the city claiming that their reasons for denying his requests don't hold any water.

Gapers Block recently spoke with Dumke via phone to discuss the suit, the city's apparently archaic technology, and transparency under the new mayor.

Gapers Block: What's your take on the city's reasons for denying your FOIA requests?

Mick Dumke: The city gave me two reasons for denying my requests. I find them both to be false. The first was that six months worth of the mayor's schedule would pose a security threat, because it could help establish patterns in his coming and going. To which I reply, everyone knows the building and floor where the mayor works. It's preposterous to me that giving the schedule of people he's meeting with in this office would somehow imperil him beyond the information that's already widely known. That, to me, was ridiculous.

More to the point, it's a misapplication of the FOIA. There are some security exceptions to the FOIA, but that's for information we would request about planning for terrorist attacks. It has nothing to do with protecting the coming and going or meeting schedule of an elected official. The attorney general sided with me on that argument.

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Micah Uetricht

Chicago Thu Jun 02 2011

Crap[s]: A Chicago Casino

Should we bring casino gambling to Chicago, as Mayor Emanuel is aggressively pushing for? I've never been able to come to a solid decision on this issue, whether to oppose or not. Casinos are regularly trotted out as solutions to sagging tax revenues, particularly in declining urban areas like Providence, Hartford, Detroit and Cleveland. And while there is some initial surge in revenues, if Providence and Detroit are our glimmering examples of the wonders of casino gaming development, I'm not certain we should be encouraging their development here in Chicago.

Of course, Chicago is much different from Providence and Detroit. Chicago is a major convention city, the third largest city in the country, and the capital of the Midwest. We already draw huge numbers of tourists and conventioneers. Given that, the social ills that accompany casinos may not manifest; and perhaps their main function of merely sucking more money from low-income workers to enrich the casino developers and provide a trickle of extra tax revenue will be substituted for actually making money from tourists.

One thing does seem safe to say: if a casino attracts new tourists, it will make the casino operators very wealthy, which will have an attendant (small) impact on tax revenue. But it will not have any appreciable effect on other businesses. The Boston Federal Reserve Bank released a paper evaluating a proposed casino in Rhode Island and included this:

In general, whether a casino will benefit or harm a local economy hinges on whether the casino is likely to attract tourists to the region. Destination casinos, such as those in Las Vegas, essentially export casino services to tourists, bringing in new dollars to the local economy. A dollar spent by a tourist in a destination casino may fund a local supplier providing food and beverages to the casino, which then spends that income on other goods and services in the local economy, thus multiplying the effect of the first dollar spent. The tourist, however, does not generally spend much in the communities surrounding a resort-style casino. Steve Wynn, a major casino operator, expressed this point to local businessmen in Bridgeport which also considered a casino, in the 1990s: "There is no reason on earth for any of you to expect for more than a second that just because there are people here, they're going to run into your restaurants and stores just because we build this building [casino] here." Therefore, the main ancillary benefits are from indirect spending in the local economy spurred by tourists to a casino, rather than direct spending by tourists at local restaurants or shops.

(emphasis added).

In other words, the economic impact is strictly trickle down, and rests on some pretty big assumptions. So, in that way it is certainly a risk.

I have to believe however that Chicago given its existing reputation and infrastructure and steady convention business would be able to benefit from an appropriate casino (i.e., something a little classy). Most cities that pursue casino development do so to bring in the tourists; Chicago's casino would be another way for our extant tourists to spend money. If--if--we know that most of the casino's customers would be tourists, it's a good idea. If not, it's just another massive trickle-down project done out of terror of spooking away fragile mega-corporations who flee at the scent of any taxes that prompt a fair share.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (3)

Good Government/Reform Tue May 31 2011

Drawing the Partisan and Protective Map

For political junkies like myself there is little better than watching politicians subvert the electorate every ten years through the process of redistricting.

It happens every ten years after the constitutionally mandated census and requires states to reapportion Congressional districts. Watching how this ritual plays out suggests that maybe allowing elected officials to draw their own districts is not the best idea. They carve out neighborhoods and towns like turkey, looking for the juiciest bits of meat.

With Democrats controlling both chambers of the legislature as well as the Governor's mansion, the state party has redrawn the proposed map to benefit themselves. That is, after the 2012 elections.

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Aaron Krager

Good Government/Reform Tue May 24 2011

Redistricting Circus is Back in Town

By Dick Simpson

Now that we have the mayor inaugurated and our federal and state income taxes paid, we can turn our attention to the political circus of figuring out which elected officials represent us. Legislative redistricting occurs in three rings and it is hard to keep your eye on all three at once.

The three redistricting arenas are congressional districts, state legislative districts and Chicago's aldermanic wards. Theoretically, four legal principles apply:

  • Districts must be equal in size.
  • Protected minorities cannot be gerrymandered to prevent them from electing members of their own race.
  • Districts should be contiguous.
  • Districts should be compact.

But redistricting is governed even more strongly by two political principles: incumbent protection and partisan advantage.

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Good Government/Reform Mon May 16 2011

UPDATED: Mayor Emanuel's First Acts: Orders On Corruption and Lobbying

Mayor Emanuel's PR shop released a list of his first actions in office: the issuing of executive orders meant to limit the revolving door between government and the lobbying industry, and re-issuing orders by our last Mayor, Mayor...uh...what was his name again? Anyway, by Mayor What-His-Name limiting who could give to the Mayor, as well as lobbying procedures and restrictions.

From the release:

This afternoon, Mayor Emanuel signed three Executive Orders creating significant new ethics rules, fulfilling his campaign pledge to enhance transparency and accountability in City government. The Mayor also signed three Executive Orders on ethics originally issued by Mayor Daley.

The first Executive Order prohibits new appointees from lobbying City government for two years after leaving the Administration. Lower level employees are barred from lobbying the departments or agencies in which they work and appointees to boards and commissions are barred from lobbying the board or commission on which they sit.

The second Executive Order protects City employees against pressure to give gifts or make political contributions to their superiors, including department heads and the Mayor.

The third Executive Order prohibits City lobbyists from making political contributions to the Mayor.

Mayor Emanuel also reissued three important Executive Orders on ethics that were originally signed by Mayor Daley. These include a ban on political contributions to the Mayor from the owners of companies that do business with the City, an order requiring City employees to comply with the hiring oversight rules adopted in connection with the Shakman litigation, and an order reaffirming that it is the duty of every City employee to report wrongdoing to the Inspector General.

Reserve judgment on their potential efficacy, though: as of five p.m., the Mayor's press office is saying the executive orders themselves are not available. Request for clarification as to whether the actual language of the orders was complete was not returned as of five p.m. We will update with any clarification.

UPDATE, 5:35 p.m.: The Mayor's office has released the executive orders, find them below the jump.

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Ramsin Canon

Election 2011 Mon Mar 21 2011

Chicago For Sale

Here's a troubling bit of news.

The Illinois State Board of Elections issued a decision denying that the For a Better Chicago PAC, which distributed as much as three quarters of a million dollars on the municipal election on behalf of pro-business candidates, had to disclose its donors. A complaint was lodged by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform against the PAC, which is operated by Greg Goldner, principal at Resolute Consulting and a former campaign manager for both Rahm Emanuel and Mayor Daley.

The Board has in practice created a form of legal political money laundering in our elections. Any party can, by first giving to a corporate entity that subsequently creates a PAC, pour as much money as it wants into that PAC to be spent on elections. While campaign contribution limits would restrict how that PAC gave to candidates directly, there would be no practical limits on electioneering, a distinction hardened in law under the regime created by the Citizens United decision.

Information can now be disseminated without giving voters the benefit of knowing who is providing that information.

I wonder if groups like the Commercial Club who have for generations mewled and puked about city machines giving out $40k a year jobs to those who provide political support, will buck and howl about this new regime of unrestricted cash in politics, cash coming from unknown sources and therefore for unknown reasons. The legal trend has not been to limit the influence of this cash, but instead to protect it.

The result? Corporate power will continue to dominate our elections, and those on the side of economic justice will have to find some way beside elections to pursue that justice.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (11)

Good Government/Reform Mon Mar 14 2011

Time for Participatory Budgeting to Grow?

This article was submitted by Austin Smith.

In most communities, residents who see the need for an infrastructure project must send letters, make phone calls and attend meetings. In the 49th Ward, they simply need to vote.

The North Side neighborhood uses a process known as participatory budgeting, which puts the fund allocation decisions in the hands of the community itself.

In 2007, Ald. Joe Moore first learned about the concept from a presentation by Josh Lerner, director of the Participatory Budgeting Project. Over the next few years Moore further researched the potential to use the process for city funds known as menu money. In fiscal 2010, his ward became the first jurisdiction in the United States to implement participatory budgeting.


Each ward receives the same amount of menu money, last year that amount was about $1.3 million, and it can be used for any infrastructure projects the Alderman's office chooses. Ald. Moore created a four-step election process whereby any resident who is 16-years-old or older can propose and ultimately vote for expenditures, regardless of citizenship or voting eligibility.

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Mechanics / Comments (1)

Environment/Sustainability Fri Feb 11 2011

The (Clean) Power of the People Don't Stop

This piece was submitted by Martin Macias, Jr.


In the wake of political inaction, Chicago environmental coalition will hold a People's Hearing

The Chicago Clean Power Coalition comprised of over 50 health, community, environmental and business groups, shared something in common recently with the "Anybody but Rahm" contingent of the Chicago electorate...briefly succumbing to the joy of witnessing the fruition of poetic justice, only to be struck down by the daisy cutters barring bad news. On January 27th it was discovered that an official Health Committee hearing, which was slated to take place on the 14th, was delayed indefinitely by Daley Administration allies in the City Council. However, the coalition announced that they will move forward with a "People's Hearing" in City Council chambers on February 14th.

Alderman James Balcer (11th) is the new chair of the Health Committee and would've presided over the first council hearing that examined the Clean Power Ordinance introduced by Aldermen Joe Moore (49th) and sponsored by 16 other Aldermen. A majority vote of the joint committee is needed for the legislation to advance to a vote by the full City Council.

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Election 2011 Mon Jan 24 2011

Make Sense, Be Honest: Emanuel's Ballot Access

There's a lot of political schadenfreude going around in reaction to an Illinois Appellate Court decision to remove Rahm Emanuel from the municipal election ballot. A local objector filed suit to prevent Emanuel's candidacy, with the argument that Emanuel failed to meet the requirement that candidates for local office in Chicago both be a qualified elector (i.e., voter) and have "resided" in Chicago for a year before the election.

The latest turn in Emanuel's on-going legal troubles in getting on the ballot was a shock to many (but not all), and has naturally led to indignation at the injustice done to voters (i.e., "Let the voters decide!") and the justice of the universe ("He's buying the election! He failed to meet the letter of the law!")

I implore everyone to take a breath and consider their arguments outside of the election fight context for this one instance; in a post-Bush v Gore society, we can't afford any more "I'll cheer when it helps and screech when it hurts" approaches to legal decisions like this.

The Opinion and Dissent

The decision was split 2-1. The majority opinion is seductively argued. Basically, they build upwards from the idea that the Chicago election law is conjuctive and not disjunctive--in other words, it is an "and" not an "or." Where there is an "and" in a statute, that means that two distinct, non-redundant elements are necessary. The two elements in question here: (1) Is candidate a qualified elector? and (2) did candidate "reside" in Chicago for a year before the election?

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (9)

Chicago After Daley Tue Jan 04 2011

Del Valle Notches Two Progressive Endorsements

In further proof that 2011 is not an analogue of 1983 or 1987, but in some ways bears closer resemblance to 1979, City Clerk and former state senator Miguel Del Valle has garnered the endorsement of two political organizations with strong independent/reformer roots, especially in the critical lakefront wards, namely the Independent Voters of Illinois (IVI-IPO) and the Northside chapter of Democracy for America ("DFA"). After winning the official backing of IVI-IPO's board last week, Del Valle was endorsed handily by the lakefront DFA group last night, with only Carol Moseley Braun, who appeared and spoke before the group earlier in the evening, showing any other support.

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Jeff Smith / Comments (3)

Aldermen Tue Dec 14 2010

A Peek at Election Law Tweaks

On Monday, Dec. 13, a small group of journalists, reform advocates, and political junkies gathered in a conference room at the Michael A. Bilandic Building to hear a three-person panel review some of the important changes to Illinois election law enacted last year in what was finally passed as Public Act 96-0832 (click preceding link to view text of Act as it amended existing law; click here to download as a PDF). Cindy Canary of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, Andy Nauman from the State Board of Elections' division that regulates campaign finance reporting, and Cara Smith (no relation), the Public Access [FOIA] Counselor for the Illinois Attorney General, did their best in a quick review to navigate attendees through a pastiche of legislation that, as Canary put it, is "like going into the inner chamber of hell." The changes have some immediate impact on the municipal elections barreling down upon us all, with larger ramifications for other future races. However, reviewing what the law does and doesn't do also highlighted new ambiguities created, and how in significant areas much remains to be done.

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Jeff Smith

Economic Development Sun Nov 21 2010

The Return of Andrew Mooney

Mayor Daley announced this week that Andrew Mooney would be taking over the newly created Department of Housing and Economic Development in an interim capacity.

Mooney was appointed by former Mayor Jane Byrne (1979-83) to take over the Chicago Housing Authority shortly after the notorious Charles Swibel was ousted. Mooney was only 30 at the time. In his book Fire on the Prairie, Chicago Reader reporter Gary Rivlin wrote this about Mooney's appointment:

Worse still was the man Byrne chose to take Swibel's place, a thirty-year-old named Andrew Mooney. Swibel had hired Mooney the previous year to serve as executive director, and the same HUD report that scored Swibel criticized Mooney as ill-prepared to contend with the serious fiscal, administrative, and physical problems confronting hte CHA. Mooney had no managerial experience or any management training, and he acknowledged as much when he confessed to a HUD investigator that he had been appointed primarily because of loyalty to the mayor....The furor that followed was as intense as it was predictable. Hundreds amassed at City Hall on the day the three appointees were scheduled to appear before the City Council. Some arrived as early as 7 A.M., but few were granted a seat inside. The doors were not opened to the public until the council chambers were already packed with city employees slipped in through a side door. Byrne ducked out a back door after the vote, eluding both the public and the press. When demonstrators gathered outside Byrne's apartment, she had them arrested.

Mooney is 58 now, and in Mayor Daley's Chicago, probably significantly less concerned about people turning out to protest a Mayoral appointment to head a major City Department. It will be interesting to watch the docket of proposals coming before the Department of Housing and Economic Development as various parties anticipate the changing of the guard on the Fifth Floor. It will also be interesting to see if Mayoral hopefuls like Rahm Emanuel and Gery Chico meet with Mooney in the "interim."

Update: Mooney apparently made his comeback in stages: On 12 November, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced her transition team chairs, and Mooney is listed as the subcommittee chair for economic development.

Ramsin Canon

Local Elections Fri Nov 05 2010

Election Day with a Long-shot

There are some longtime rituals on Election Day that politically active American citizens repeat every election cycle. Voters gather in homes or public places on the first Tuesday of November and watch televised up-to-the-second exit poll figures and vote tallies. They arrive at these parties with some basic expectations: their party will win some, and their party will lose some. Hopefully the former will outweigh the latter. If not, they can try again in two years.

A strange atmosphere hangs in the air of such a get-together put on by a party that considers five percent of the vote a victory. No one goes to a Green Party election-watching expecting their candidates to win the majority of the electorate--no one. It's like rooting for the Cubs, except the Greens never even make it to the playoffs.

But Election Day 2010 was different. The party that accepts losing as a way of life thought that maybe they would get to win.

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Micah Uetricht / Comments (2)

Elections Mon Nov 01 2010

Who Cares About a State Representative's Race?

As you may have heard, some people (but probably not very many) are going to be voting on some stuff tomorrow. It's been a wild campaign season locally and nationally, and both will probably see some shakeups. But unlike the fights for governor or senator, there's one tight race that isn't between a Republican and a Democrat and most Chicagoans (particularly those outside of the Northwest Side) know little about: the fight for state representative in the 39th district.

State rep races usually fly well below the media's radar, overshadowed by races for higher offices. This year has been no exception: much attention has been paid to Quinn vs. Brady and Kirk vs. Giannoulias. But the fight in the 39th district between eight-year incumbent Democrat Toni Berrios and insurgent Green Party candidate Jeremy Karpen should be worth watching tomorrow. While the winner will not be the most powerful politician in Illinois, an incumbent loss would result in the only Green Party politician in any state house in the country.

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Micah Uetricht / Comments (7)

Good Government/Reform Mon Nov 01 2010

A Documentary on the Practice of "Gerrymandering"

Bill Mundell is the executive producer for a documentary filmed called appropriately enough Gerrymandering. It's about the practice of drawing political districts with the intent of assuring a desired result, mainly for instance to insure that an incumbent will remain in office. Or to explain further to create a district that will allow the incumbent to remain in office.

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Housing Mon Oct 25 2010

Not One More Eviction

This article was submitted by Keeanga-Yamahatta Taylor

ON OCTOBER 14, members of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign (CAEC), in an act of protest and street theater, presented Cook County Sheriff and mayoral candidate Tom Dart, with a six-foot-tall "five-day notice."

A five-day notice is a court order given to tenants that declares they have five days to pay their rent or risk being taken to eviction court. The CAEC's five-day notice gave Dart five days to "halt...the dozens of evictions processed by his office each day."

Approximately 100 evictions are carried out in Cook County each day. Moreover, there has been an almost 70 percent increase in the number of foreclosure filings in the county. Thirty percent of all foreclosures are on non-owner occupied property--meaning they are rental property. In fact, the impact of foreclosures on tenants prompted Dart to levy a moratorium on evictions for two weeks in 2008.

News stories uncovered how landlords who were in foreclosure and on the brink of losing their property neglected to tell their tenants while they were still collecting rent. Renters were coming home to find their belongings piled on the sidewalk, having no idea that their landlords had been using them like ATM machines.

Dart said then:

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Mechanics / Comments (1)

Urban Planning Tue Oct 19 2010

Chicago is What Happens When You're Busy Making Plans

On the rooftop of the Harris Theater last Wednesday, over 800 people overcame the torrential rains to witness the adoption of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning's GO TO 2040 plan. CMAP, as it's colloquially called, is the regional planning organization of Chicagoland, and GO TO 2040 is their official, three-years-in-the-making guidebook that intends to serve as a road map for Chicagoland's growth and development over the course of the next 30 years. Paring its ambitious mission down to four main themes -- Livable Communities, Human Capital, Efficient Governance, and Regional Mobility -- the GO TO 2040 plan offers holistic prescriptions for the region as a whole, recognizing structural fixes are needed across all platforms.

Within its analysis, illustrations, and recommendations, CMAP, while never overtly saying so, lays claim to the argument that Chicago is effectively the main remaining relevant economic factor in the State of Illinois. (Obviously, the city is the largest and most influential in the Midwest as well.) And hence, given Springfield's antagonistic inability to recognize this, Chicago's relation to its state is simply a restraint on growth. It's Chicago's connection to Beijing, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, London, Dubai, almost anywhere but Springfield, that serves as the springboard to success for the region. Essentially, CMAP's plan is an argument that says in order maximize the global connectivity of Chicagoland to other global centers, the region's ability to successfully do so is directly correlated to the strength between its regional connections. With over 1,226 government units in the Chicagoland region due to myriad metropolitan agencies and functions, there is much room to streamline services and improve efficiency. And efficiency, used in the economic sense to mean the production of a good at the lowest possible cost that still provides benefit, plays directly into CMAP's call for sustainability.

Sustainability and tangibility are the two pillars on which GO TO 2040 rests. The plan promotes sustainability in its Livable Communities initiatives through the development of local food production, retrofitting programs to make older buildings better users of energy, and crafting local zoning laws to encourage mixed-use development of land. The Regional Mobility portion of the plan aims to improve mobility by increasing intermodal effectiveness, micromanage the budgeting process to bring transit agencies into fiscal well-being, and the implementing of five major capital projects, including extending the CTA Red Line south to 130th St, building the West Loop Transportation Center, and creating suburban highway connectors that flank the city and beyond. The Efficient Governance focus of GO TO 2040 is perhaps the crux of the entire plan. Any aspect of any plan must start with making access to government process and information more open and available, as CMAP outlines, and as detailed here in a earlier post, refocusing our taxing bodies into common sense vehicles.

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Ben Schulman

Elections Sun Oct 17 2010

Corporate Cash Flooding IL, National Federal Races

Holding signs with slogans such as "RepubliCorp: we buy democracy, one race at a time," members of MoveOn from Chicago and the northern suburbs held a press conference on Friday, Oct. 15 at the Northbrook office of Congressman Mark Kirk, who is also a candidate for U.S. Senate, to draw attention to a report entitled Buying Democracy: The impact of corporate and right-wing front groups on elections in llinois. The report's findings reinforce what many Americans have become aware of in recent weeks, namely, that an unprecedented flood of shadowy cash is making its way into the 2010 election. The northern Illinois group held their presentation in coordination with other MoveOn efforts taking place in all 50 states.

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Jeff Smith / Comments (21)

Election 2011 Mon Oct 04 2010

Modeling an Open Chicago: Taking The City Back

This is the first in a series.

They know what's best for you.

cover2.jpgWith an open Mayoral seat, Chicagoans a generation removed from the last competitive election for that office are unsure of their footing. The media is either causing or reflecting that confusion, unsure where to start an analysis of what this election "means," what will determine its outcome, who the players are. Path of least resistance: we focus on the personalities running, the staff they're hiring, the money they're raising. Is this a new chance at democracy? Have we had democracy all along? Does Chicago need a strong hand? Or are we looking for the next Harold? White? Black? Latino? Man? Woman? Gay? Straight? Machine? Progressive?

The cat's away. The mice are frantic.

"Progressives" are eager to make this election a change election, to "take the city back" from what they perceive as decades of corporatist policies under Daley's leadership. Their archenemy is Rahm Emanuel, the insider's insider who has openly mocked progressive leadership nationally and who made a curious insta-fortune on Wall Street after his years in the Clinton White House. And, it should be noted, who made his bones raising money for Mayor Daley. Whet Moser of the Reader directs us to a painfully prescient piece by David Moberg from those days, wherein Moberg by simply looking at Daley the Younger's fundraising deduces that the "new Machine" will be run by big money rather than neighborhood patronage.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Daley Mon Jul 19 2010

How To Challenge the Mayor

This is an Op-Ed by UIC Professor and former Lakeview Alderman Dick Simpson, courtesy of the Chicago Journal

Reading the tea leaves suggests Mayor Richard M. Daley will run for reelection this fall, asking for a seventh term from Chicago voters.

He hasn't announced his intentions yet, but the mayor is unlikely to decline taking another shot to sit in the big chair on the fifth floor of city hall for a simple reason: getting out now means leaving the city's top job and leaving Chicago in the lurch.

Getting out now means finishing his tenure scarred by the Olympic collapse. Getting out now means leaving while some of Daley's biggest projects -- the transformation of public housing perhaps most prominently -- remain incomplete, stalled out like a car with a shot carburetor.

Despite his demurrals and recent above-the-fray attitude toward the grit of electoral politics, politics courses through the mayor's bloodstream. He won't leave, at least not yet.

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Mechanics / Comments (3)

TIFs Wed Jun 30 2010

City's Inspector General Has Some Words on TIFs

The city's Inspector General, Joseph Ferguson, sent the Mayor an audit on several city TIFs, and the result confirms what TIF critics have been saying: that no matter what the potential benefits of so much TIF creation, the lack of transparency both to the public and to public officials is leading to waste and corruption. TIFs, or Tax Increment Financing districts, are special taxing districts that freeze the property taxes paid to the usual taxing bodies (mainly the school district, County, and park district) and diverts that money into a special account meant to finance development.

The report, dated yesterday, details numerous ways the lack of public accounting for the TIF funds resulted in wasteful spending, abuses, and corruption. The audit criticizes the city for lacking sufficient "internal controls" as required by the state statute that authorizes cities to create TIFs.

Of the litany of problems with TIF management the IG cites, this one jumps out: "Decisions to move money from one TIF district to another contiguous district--so called 'porting' of funds--are not adequately documented and are made without sufficient transparency to assure adequate accountability and public scrutiny."

The porting of TIF funds between contiguous districts is what changes TIFs from a tool for development into a de facto shadow budget. The justification for porting is meager, and the impact is enormous: a look at the city's TIF districts shows that contiguity is common. Since TIFs are meant to eliminate concentrated blight (with a creation process take that targeting as an assumption), porting money from one district to another defeats the purpose of the program.

View Larger Map
Map via Windy Citizen

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Ramsin Canon

Open Government Wed Jun 30 2010

Sunlight Foundation Reviews Illinois

The Sunlight Foundation's reporting group put out their short review of the state's transparency efforts, and found them lacking. Head over to see their full report.

In a state where good government groups have been working to increase transparency since the days of Al Capone, how is Illinois doing in bringing their transparency efforts into the 21st century? Quite well, say open government boosters like US Public Interest Research Group, who recently ranked the state third in their review of state websites designed to get crucial spending data online. Still, local transparency advocates can teach state officials a thing or two about making a site useful to reporters.

Ramsin Canon

Blagojevich Fri Jun 18 2010

So You Don't Have To: Choice Excerpts from the Blagojevich Transcripts

Occasionally, I defy conventional boring the shit out of yourself wisdom and read the transcripts from federal cases on the DOJ website. The Family Secrets trial of the Chicago Outfit has some particularly fascinating wiretap transcripts. Since I was whiling away the hours in this fashion, I figured I'd start pulling out some choice nuggets so you don't have to similarly while.

While discussing the alleged shakedown of the betting track owners, there's this nugget:

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Ramsin Canon

Education Fri Jun 04 2010

Chicago Merit Pay Program Was Not Uniquely Flawed

Maybe it was the policy postures of Clinton era--I don't know--but for some reason, this mythology that all social problems can be solved through the awesome force of "markets" and a business ethos has been wholly absorbed by liberals, particularly big city liberals. We can all agree that capitalism has created an awesome amount of wealth and raised the quality of life for many people. Isn't that enough? Do we have to admit the profit motive and corporate governance to every area of human relations? Does it mean corporate CEOs know the solutions to all our problems? Must we be thankful, rather than terrified, that JP Morgan Chase is trying to underwrite our schools?

The little local kerfuffle over the failure of Chicago's pilot teacher merit pay program is another example of petty liberals assuming "seriousness" by just accepting that a corporate approach can solve social problems if only properly designed. Can't it be that some things aren't like profit-seeking entities, and therefore those models can't be transposed onto them? Isn't it possible that some things we as a society want are going to be expensive, big, and not anything like, say, Wal-Mart?

The fact is, Chicago's merit pay experiment failed not because of some illicit design flaw, but because pay for performance for teachers is fundamentally flawed, from its head to its toes. It's nothing new. It's been tried since the 18th Century--yes, the 18th Century--and has failed fairly consistently. In fact as cited in that report, the sole serviceable model--the one in Denver--is even low-rated by its supporters in that school system, who admit that lots of other expensive things are required for even modest improvements.

Here's Cottrell's take:

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Blagojevich Thu Jun 03 2010

Don't Forget: Blagojevich Allegedly Tried to Shake Down A F*&%ing Children's Hospital

The Blagojevich trial officially kicks off today. Amid the partisan celebrations about how the attention on this trial will "hurt Democrats" (it won't), it's important to take a moment to think about what this trial really shows, given that it is the second trial in a row of an Illinois Governor for despicable crimes. Rather than see that as evidence that the system needs fundamental reform--specifically, to eliminate the influence of cash in politics--partisans are using it for political advantage. Real heroes.

The sin wasn't really trying to sell the US Senate seat. Honestly, who cares if he was going to horse trade--or even auction it off for his personal benefit? To be honest, given the way the US Senate works, it probably wouldn't have ended a whole lot different than having Roland Burris in there. I have in mind the shaking down of Children's Memorial Hospital CEO for $50k at the risk of losing funding. That's the real despicable act. And it isn't liberal or conservative or Democratic or Republican. It's part of our political system. A political system that relies on organized money rather than organized people. George Ryan's actions in selling "licenses for bribes" lead indirectly to the death of a family. There wasn't something about Ryan's Republican-ness or conservative-ness that led him to do that, nor is there anything about Blagojevich's Democrat-ness or liberal-ness that led him to allegedly shakedown a kid's hospital. Yet of course that's what partisans resort to; that's the tribal system we're supposed to pretend is more "serious" and "realistic". When we have such clear evidence of both sides operating in the same system, isn't that all the evidence we need that the two parties are uninterested in actually changing that system? It's all so frustrating.

To follow the trial in quasi-real time, check out Natasha Korecki from the Sun-Times on Twitter. Presumably the Trib's Jeff Coen will be there, though his Twitter account is pretty inactive.

After the jump, check out the details of Blagojevich's shakedown of a hospital executive.

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Ramsin Canon

Good Government/Reform Fri May 28 2010

Grades for City, Sunshine on the Aldermen

Thumbnail image for Simpson, Dick.jpgLess than a year from now, Chicagoans will decide whether or not to re-elect Mayor Richard M. Daley -- assuming he throws his hat back in the ring one more time -- and the incumbent aldermen who take another shot at city council.

Voters need a reliable scorecard to grade the performance of city government and a way to track when the mayor and the aldermen agreed and disagreed on the most important issues that came before city council during this past legislative term.

These two tallies are now available in an easy-to-use online format. Click over to to ChicagoDGAP check the Developing Government Accountability to the People Web site, a project for which I provided analysis of aldermanic voting patterns and served as a voting member of the citywide report card committee.

And the grades we gave out to our city government were not encouraging -- overall, the City of Chicago received a D.

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Ramsin Canon

Good Government/Reform Wed May 19 2010

Chicago IG: Hundreds of Millions in Unreported City Payments

Well, you won't find these in City Payments' database. The Chicago News Cooperative's Dan Mihalopolous brings us the story of $769m in undisclosed payments by the City of Chicago to vendors. That's just in one year. Yeah.

Dan is a real journalist, so I'm going to add some Mad Libs-y color commentary to this quote:

Mayor Richard M. Daley's hilarious assertions that he has run a transparent administration suffered a fresh blow following the release of a new one-freaking-year audit report showing that the city neglected to disclose nearly $769 goddamn million in payments made with taxpayer money.

The new unfreakingbelievable report from Inspector General Joseph Ferguson states that "direct voucher" payments, in which the city makes payments for goods and services that it obtains outside the normal quotecompetitiveunquote bidding process, weren't made public even after the city vowed to open up all contracts and payments made to companies for goods and services to public view through the Department of Procurement Services at

You can catch the IG's full report below the fold.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Chicago Thu May 13 2010

Chillin' with the FOIA

Mayor Daley today announced that, henceforth, City Hall would not merely log (as required by law) but post online the names, requesting organizations, and documents requested for each Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") request. The log is already posted online at the City's Department of Law web page, showing, for instance, that the Sun-Times's Chris Fusco is looking into the mayor's security detail, and that the Chicago Justice Project is investigating verdicts and settlements paid by the City in civil rights lawsuits.

Posting such a log is not required by state FOIA law and was done, the City said, in interests of transparency. But who is being made more transparent by this? Someone at the City doesn't seem to get that transparency is about making what government does more visible to citizens. Here, it's citizens who are being made more visible.

Maybe such a log will help avoid a few duplicative requests. But, overall, the immediate obvious effects suggest a curtailment, rather than implementation, of the purposes behind FOI law. NBC Chicago termed the measure "turnabout" and suggested that the mayor seemed "gleeful" in announcing it.

A couple of negatives jump out. For the average citizen, this provides just one more way in which your name can get spread around the Internet. Who might make commercial or even malicious use of a list of FOIA-requestors, one can only speculate, but there's little limit to the imagination of identity thieves, privacy invaders, data-miners and worse. The only possible impact on the average citizen is a chilling effect.

Continue reading this entry »

Jeff Smith / Comments (1)

TIFs Wed May 12 2010

Midwest TIF Gets a $32 Million Raise

This Op-Ed was contributed by Valerie F. Leonard, a community development consultant on the city's West Side.

The City Council approved an ordinance on April 14, 2010 to increase the redevelopment budget for the Midwest TIF district from $100,500,000 to $132,865,000. This represents a 32% increase from the district's original budget. The City of Chicago's Projected TIF Balances Report 2009-2011 indicates that the Midwest TIF is projected to have a cash deficit of -$6,842,003 at the end of 2010 if every project on the schedule is implememented, and projected 2010 incremental tax revenues of $13,000,000 materialize. The projected deficit is expected to grow to -$7,213,492 by the end of 2011.

Midwest TIF Graphic-Redevelopment Budget.jpg

Midwest TIF Boundaries.jpg

Continue reading this entry »


Good Government/Reform Mon May 10 2010

Transparency Walk Back?

Illinois passed a pretty impressive Freedom of Information law last year. The act went into effect this year, to the tempered joy of journalists and transparency reformers everywhere.

Now a bill has been sent to Governor Quinn by the General Assembly (HB 5154) that would prohibit release of personnel records of government employees. This is of particular concern to police department watchdogs, since those records would contain evidence of discipline for abuse of power or abuse, critical tools for independent police oversight. Having a strong FOI law is so critical to transparency and so clearly in the public interest, that something like personnel records becoming public has to be considered at worst a necessary evil, and at best, a key component of improving operations in government.

That's on the one hand. On the other, even government employees should have some reasonable expectations of privacy, particularly those who are not in a significant policy-making or implementing area. These are not elected officials who opened themselves up to public evaluation. The fact that their personal performance reviews will be fully available to the public upon written request may deter ambitious climbers and subject long-time employees to invasions of privacy. That said, the Springfield Journal-Register has a pretty convincing Op-Ed that falls on the first hand: there is such a huge public interest in keeping this law strong that significant evidence should be required to constrict it, and there simply is little evidence that the disclosure of evidence would lead to abuse.

Ramsin Canon

Chicagoland Fri May 07 2010

Telling No Tales

The Northwest Herald has reported that troubled Metra chief Phil Pagano killed himself this morning -- by walking in front of a Metra train. The apparent suicide follows a number of actions taken by the commuter rail transit agency against its director, who made more than a quarter-million dollars salary, following reports that he padded that amount without authorization, and the launch of a criminal investigation by the Cook County State's Attorney.

Continue reading this entry »

Jeff Smith

Education Fri May 07 2010

The Unhelpful Voucher Conversation

Megan Cottrell at True/Slant has decided that the defeated measure to create a pilot voucher program in Chicago has "doom[ed] thousands of poor children to an inferior education." This type of hyperbole, besides being indefensible, has helped make real reform of our schools impossible. No, defeating a voucher program proposed in a vacuum is not what is "dooming" anybody. One reason is that inside of an education regime with high-stakes testing that results in ham-fisted school closures and displacement and punishes rather than fixes problems in our schools, a voucher program only takes students more likely to succeed already out of the system, and--well, should we say "dooms hundreds of thousands of poor children to an inferior education"? No, I think that's too loaded.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (5)

Good Government/Reform Tue Apr 20 2010

The Liberty Tug-of-War

Today is April 20th, the day celebrated by many as Weed Day. It's a day when may law enforcement officials look the other way as large groups of marijuana users gather to smoke a bowl or joint in public in celebration of their right to be groovy.

Of course, potheads don't only toke grass on the 20th of April, but the date (4/20) carries special significance to adherents of cannabis culture. It originated at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California, where students would meet at a statue of Louis Pasteur at 4:20 to smoke pot. Hence the term "420″ as a substitute for marijuana.

4/20 occurs a week and a half after another anniversary of government's involvement in failing to regulate the lives of private individuals and creating all sorts of nasty negative externalities because of it. On April 7th, 1933 the National Prohibition Act-also known as the Volstead Act, which established the legal definition of an intoxicating liquor-lost its teeth when the Congress deemed 3.2% alcohol beer to be legal. The 25th Amendment passed soon after, repealing the 18th Amendment altogether. Thus ended the only constitutional substance prohibition by the U.S. government.

Continue reading this entry »

Richard Lorenc

Urban Planning Wed Mar 17 2010

Park Place: Parking Policy and Public Transportation

Tn-500_MON_TD_BB_Blu_ParkPlace.JPG"The Parking Meters" will not mean just "the parking meters" in Chicago for at least another generation. The popular outrage over privatization of the city's parking meters was one of the largest expression of popular discontent of the Daley era, and caused a crack, albeit a fine one, to appear in the Mayor's monolithic governing coalition. Given as we are to think of government and politics as a collection of personalities, the Daley administration's ham-handed negotiation and rolling out of the parking meter privatization have taken center stage. The concession agreement has been treated as a political disaster, with reports that the entire lease was undervalued adding to rage over an opaque process.

But are the projected sharp increases in parking costs and the potential coming of variable or market rate pricing projected over the coming years really a blessing in disguise?

Indeed, urban planners have been arguing for more realistic parking costs in cities for years, and market pricing is increasingly looked at as a critical component to make cities more "sustainable" -- that is, more efficient, less dependent on exhaustible sources of energy, more carbon-neutral, and more conducive to healthy lifestyles. These (largely academic) planners looked at the abundance of cheap parking and deduced that the prevalence of cheap parking stimulated demand, and that the abundance was a result of direct and indirect government intervention. This is primarily in the form of mandated creation of parking in the zoning code. As a result, non-drivers end up subsidizing drivers, since developers build the cost of parking construction and maintenance into their business models. What's more, in outlying areas mandatory parking lots create expanses that incrementally push commercial and residential districts further and further apart, making alternatives to driving -- particularly walking and biking -- less feasible.

A two for one solution appears: make parking sensitive to demand (i.e., increase the rates) and reinvest the revenue in foot and bike friendly urban design and public transportation. Result: efficiency and diversity of transportation options.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (9)

Media Tue Mar 16 2010

KassWatch: Mob Watchin'

Kudos to John Kass for reporting on Outfit machinations that influence and corrupt public institutions. I mean that seriously; despite my intense dislikes of Kass' contrived folksy jus' folks columns, He is more or less the only mainstream reporter who regularly delves into the world of high-level organized crime and its interconnections to mainstream politics. His latest piece, marking the beginning of the "DeLeo era" in the 36th Ward--given the retirement of William Banks, the former Alderman, and the death of his brother Sam--is an eye opening one that reminds Chicagoans that despite the many body blows the Outfit has received, it is still alive and well and corrupting away.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Daley Fri Mar 12 2010

Hell Hath No Fury Like the Reader Scorned

Not long ago, Mayor Daley's press office unceremoniously denied the Reader's entreaties to sit down with them for an interview that might actually force him to answer some of their many, many pieces on his administration and its shortcomings:


We respectfully decline your request for an interview.

Thank you.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Republicans Thu Mar 11 2010

IL GOP Attempting to Form Patronage Army?

I stumbled across this website, a few days ago, and was pretty stunned.

Republicans often criticize Illinois Democrats for running a patronage army of loyal state employees. However this website is encouraging loyal republicans to be given state jobs as well.

Of course new administrations are able to appoint people to implement their vision for the state, to implement the policies that they campaigned on and were elected to enact. What is odd about this website is its tone, a confidence that the GOP will win Springfield back, and a gleeful lust for 6 figure jobs. In particular the site exhibits a tendency towards the corrupt and a disdain for "the awshucks-we're-sorry-for-having-principles-types."

When you click on the Jobs List, it lists different state departments that the Governor is able to appoint heads of. What is disturbing is the partisan descriptions for the jobs. Is the head of the Historic Preservation Society a partisan position?

The site implies that Republicans would only be interested in jobs enforcing Human Rights because, "Check out the pay scale here!"

It describes Homeland Security as "the new patronage place to be." A scary thought that our security and safety be entrusted to partisan hacks instead of trained and specialized experts.

It describes positions on the Illinois Gaming Board as though it were a casino, "Great spot to meet people and make money, come to work every once and a while, too!"

In what should be a scary comment to organized labor, the site claims that the GOP will, "rebuild [the Department of Labor] and remake it so that it is more efficient. Get on board and help."

The site is run by a woman named Jenifer Sims. It is unclear if she has any connections to the Brady campaign, the state GOP, or if she is just a crank writer. Attempts to gain quotes from the Brady for Governor campaign and the Tea Party Patriots were made. Neither gave any quotes.

Matt Muchowski

Urban Planning Tue Mar 09 2010

Why Shouldn't You Pay for Parking?

I've spent the last couple days reading studies and articles on the changing attitudes towards parking policies and zoning regulations, in favor of encouraging sustainability, walkability, and public transit. The case is made over and over again that parking is artificially cheap in big cities--particularly in Chicago--because of the way zoning regulations are written requiring parking be allocated as a ratio to square footage, and the general nature of parking meter costs (i.e., they aren't priced by market forces).

The idea is parking should be more expensive to make it more available (i.e., it'll be easier to find a spot), and to encourage people to make "active transportation" choices. Ideally, the increased revenues generated would be put directly into promoting bikeability and walkability as well as public transportation. This would need to be matched with zoning regulations that take away the incentive to build parking structures that encourage sprawl.

So my question to you all is: should the City of Chicago pursue a policy of making parking prohibitively expensive for most people in order to encourage "better" behavior? Should we encourage "the market" to determine parking costs?

Or would that just piss you off?

Ramsin Canon / Comments (9)

Column Thu Mar 04 2010

How to Reform Cook County

Simpson, Dick.jpgThe epic spree of corruption exposed in Illinois in recent years have us confirmed as national laughingstock.

Who can blame television viewers for chuckling and shaking their heads when watching indicted ex-Governor Blagojevich perform on the Today Show? A New York Times columnist says our political culture is the "most awful." Expect more of the same with the stalled Blago trial begins this summer.

While this sort of coverage continues, let's get specific for a moment, and talk about solutions for one section of local government that doesn't get much play on the cable networks or other national outlets: Cook County.

Continue reading this entry »

Mechanics / Comments (1)

Democrats Wed Mar 03 2010

The Problem with Democratic Lt. Governor Applicants

In case you haven't noticed yet, you can now submit your resume to be considered by the Illinois State Democratic Central Committee to be slated and become the nominee for Lt. Governor. You can find detailed instructions at

Perhaps more entertaining than applying yourself, is sorting through the resumes and applications of those who think that they can achieve what Scott Lee Cohen could not. Over 40 applications have been submitted so far and are posted on the Illinois state Democrats website. What seems to jump out to me is that many of these candidates, with little experience with elected office, seem to think they can play in the big leagues without going to training camp.

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski

Machine Lite Tue Feb 16 2010

Debbie Downer Returns

So having recovered from spending the last couple weeks shaking and crying in a dark corner somewhere in Pilsen after the Hoffman defeat, and bringing all of you down with me in my last post, I'm back to depress the masses yet again with a Chicago tale.

I was reading this article today, written back in January, about state House speaker Michael Madigan. It was filed in the Tribune's "Watchdog" category, which I was browsing in need of some civic inspiration--something I've been severely lacking as of late. It's about Madigan trying--and, of course, succeeding--in using his influence to drum up business for his tax law firm. See, after a developer sought and received zoning changes for his newly acquired downtown property, Madigan swung by his office to see what other properties might need his firm's services.

"When Mike Madigan calls and asks for a meeting, you meet with him," the developer says. "I mean, I was born and raised in this town."

Continue reading this entry »

Danny Fenster / Comments (2)

Chicagoland Fri Feb 05 2010

Now What? Taking on the Southwest Side Machine

I'm not entirely sure how I should feel after Tuesday's elections. Over a year of work on behalf of Rudy Lozano's state legislative campaign culminated in the single most bizarre Election Day I've ever experienced. Being there, at the Strohacker Park Field House at 4am on that snowy Tuesday morning was just the latest in a long list of "being there" days. Being there meant endless meetings plotting strategy, developing platforms, and setting up committees and what not to get the petition drive going. Being there meant the thrill of hearing words I wrote delivered in front of over 300 volunteers and supporters at Little Village High School on a warm August evening. Being there that day also meant having to go to the bathroom for 2 hours while collecting signatures and singing every Billy Idol song I knew waiting for the light at 25th and Pulaski to turn green before I wet myself. Being there meant days when we had big groups of volunteers knocking on doors for signatures and nights when it was just me, my 6 month old in a Baby Bjorn and Manny walking around Archer Heights. It was about late nights updating databases, running over to the Chicago Board elections for data CDs and ultimately, serving as a precinct captain on Election Day.

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Jacob Lesniewski / Comments (5)

Media Tue Jan 26 2010

Why Can't We Be Friends?

I wrote previously on this blog about the state of media in Chicago, specifically that branch of journalism that goes by so many names which I shall call public accountability journalism (see last section). With traditional media in the state of disrepair it finds itself, the civic-minded are in a fit over what will become of their beloved citizen watchdog.

My previous comments pointed the way to some exciting new ventures trying to fill that void in Chicago, a motley group of start-ups with interesting but uncertain business models. But there is another sublimity to the forsaken print newspaper that has to a debatable degree been lost in the bifurcated world of online media and it's seeming preference for niche publication. This idea, which is far from new or my own, I'll call the General Reader Principle.

Continue reading this entry »

Danny Fenster

Chicago Wed Jan 20 2010

Twitter and the Chicago News-O-Sphere

Woke up on the couch I call bed the other day, rolled over and popped open my Mac. Email; check. Facebook; check. Grab some coffee, head back to couch. Twitter feed; new updates from @ChicagoCurrent, @WBEZ, @chicagonewscoop, not to mention the dinosaurs.

Checking my twitter feed in the morning is sliding comfortably into that sacred place once occupied by pouring over the broadsheets, grey paper no longer splayed out across the table, coffee in hand, trying awkwardly to fold the page back upon itself.

Continue reading this entry »

Danny Fenster / Comments (4)

Chicago Mon Jan 18 2010

Where's the Neighborhood Stabilization Money?

An ad hoc group of community activists and community groups have come together to ask the city to hold a public hearing on the use and disbursement of federal Neighborhood Stabilization funds:

About a year ago, the City of Chicago received $55 million in HUD Neighborhood Stabilization funds with the expectation of leveraging an additional $58 million in private financing. The proceeds were to be used to purchase 425 abandoned foreclosed properties for rental and for sale housing in 25 neighborhoods most heavily impacted by the mortgage foreclosure crisis. An additional 100 dilapidated properties were to be purchased for demolition with the resulting vacant lots to be land banked and sold to developers and not for profit developers to build new homes. While HUD guidelines provide that essentially all NSP funds be committed within 18 months, public records indicate that 12 properties have been acquired to date. HUD announced on January 14, 2010 that Chicago will get an additional $98 million in Recovery funding to continue the program in the upcoming year.


The group, Chicago Citizens for Neighborhood Stabilization, has penned a letter to City Council Committee on Housing and Real Estate chairman Alderman Ray Suarez (31st) asking him to help initiate a public hearing on the NSP funds:

Letter to Alderman Suarez

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Good Government/Reform Fri Oct 23 2009

The Term Limit Debate: What About Generational?

I've argued in the past in favor of term limits, and addressed the concern that the government bureaucracies, or career staffers, would simply come to dominate government, and that legislators, seeing their pending unemployment, would spend the bulk of their time in office jockeying for private sector jobs or higher office. (The response was that, of course, legislators are kind of putty in lobbyists' and bureaucratic operators' hands now). I do think that the argument around unintended consequences is a good one and worth keeping in mind.

Larry at Archpundit sums it all up in a characteristically succinct line:

Does it happen in Illinois too-sure, but experienced legislators are the best defense against determined lobbyists.

While I agree with Larry (and the Rich Miller piece he cites) that term limits could likely end up having unintended consequences, like shifting power to the executive bureaucracy and lobbyists who are permanent residents of state government, I don't think this rules out term limits completely. It only rules out unreasonably short term limits (like Michigan's).

What makes a state Representative "seasoned" or experienced enough to know the players in government and how to move a piece of legislation? A combination of natural instincts, political influence, and relationships with legislators built on mutual respect and trust. Those latter two can only develop with time. So having a one-, two-, or three-term limit on legislators (particularly with no similar limit on the governor) is not a good idea.

But what about five, or ten? At some point, there is diminishing return, and legislators accrue power based on their seniority and immobility out of proportion to their legislative prowess or willingness or desire to move legislation at all (Cf., Phil Crane).

As I stated in that earlier piece, lobbyists thrive on long-standing personal relationships, not cyclical bullying. Who do we see going down for scandals with lobbyists? Is it more often some fresh faced legislator with no influence? Or their relationships with powerful, long-serving legislators? Tom Delay, Ted Stevens, Randy Cunningham, Dan Rostenkowski, potentially Charlie Rangel--these are scandals that come about because people have accrued power over time, not the result of powerful lobbyists preying on the uninitiated.

I understand the point of view of those, like Larry and Rich, who oppose term limits: there is a distaste for "naive" reformism that paints with a broad brush. But surely limiting one person to a decade in office as one piece of reform to chip away at dynastic politics would do more good than harm. The organization put Bilandic in there to replace Daley; even with a strong organization "controlling" the office, eventually the bench depletes and elections can become more competitive.

Ramsin Canon

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Parents Still Steaming, but About More Than Just Boilers

By Phil Huckelberry / 2 Comments

It's now been 11 days since the carbon monoxide leak which sent over 80 Prussing Elementary School students and staff to the hospital. While officials from Chicago Public Schools have partially answered some questions, and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool has informed that he will be visiting the school to field more questions on Nov. 16, many parents remain irate at the CPS response to date. More...


Substance, Not Style, the Source of Rahm's Woes

By Ramsin Canon / 2 Comments

It's not surprising that some of Mayor Emanuel's sympathizers and supporters are confusing people's substantive disputes with the mayor as the effect of poor marketing on his part. It's exactly this insular worldview that has gotten the mayor in hot... More...

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